December 25, 2009

Open letter on to Mark D. White
c.o John Wiley and Sons Inc.
Corporate Headquarters
111 River Street
Hoboken, NJ 07030-5774
Telephone: 201.748.6000
Facsimile: 201.748.6088
This will make more sense to my loyal readers if they have read The Watchmen
Dear Mr. White:
It is a challenge to write a letter to the authors of a collection of essays, but as editor I take it you have read Watchmen Philosophy – a Rorschach Test, ed. Mark D. White, John Wiley and Sons Inc., Hoboken 2009 concerning the graphic novel Watchmen.  I should like to respond.

Taking literary criticism to the mass market is a brilliant idea.  We all read book reviews, of course, but this is different.  Well done, Bill Irwin, steward of the series.

I think there are two very interesting characters in Watchmen. 

One is Rorschach himself.  To me he is a straight existentialist.  I was wondering by the end of the book when existentialism would be brought up.  In my understanding, there was a German intellectual movement that lasted centuries.  Most prestigious of the thinkers was Goethe.  He was very bright.  His UrFaust (the version I read in German) begins with Faust starting to translate the Bible.  He immediately gets stuck on the clause “In the beginning was the word.”  He decides that “word” is too trivial a word and makes a change.  And at the end of the story he is saved from eternal damnation by the turn of a single word.  Eventually this movement abandoned tradition and thus inevitably wound up with nihilism, the notion that nothing matters or makes any sense at all.

This of course was utter madness.  For untold eons humans have survived incredible difficulties, almost always pushing through on the basis of tradition.  Abandoning it is tantamount to abandoning a well found ship in a storm, a ship that has weathered worse on any number of occasions, and trusting to a raft of ones own invention.  But they did it, and so impressive were Germany’s other intellectual triumphs that people actually took it seriously.  Existentialism is simply the raft.  The existentialist invents himself or herself.  That is exactly what superheroes do.

Rorschach is simply clearer about it.  His existential position was that he would make no compromise with evil.  Others have done worse.  Nazis decided to become fiends.  Hippies decided to become junkies.  Communists do whatever it is they think they are doing.  When their poster child, the Soviet Union collapsed for demographic reasons, the capitalists chose greed.  But nothing you are likely to come up with in a single lifetime is likely to work. 

The moment when Rorschach won me was when he was writing in his journal thinking, “Broke a man’s finger to extract information.  Learned nothing.  Feeling slightly depressed.”  Boy have I been there.  Only I don’t break bodies much any longer.  I break minds.  Same principle though.  Rorschach makes no compromise with evil.  I make no compromise with truth.  When I offer people the truth they cannot stand it.  Slightly depressed.  I’ll offer the truth to you shortly, but first there is the other character. 

Dr. Manhattan has enormous powers.  He can make things, destroy things and move things about only using his mind.  He has greater than usual ability to reconstruct the past and predict the future, so much so that his speed is essentially unlimited.  Yet when faced with an opportunity to prevent bad things, he takes no action.  He is reduced to a paralyzed, pathetic, pusillanimous coward.  His mind has been broken.

We have all been there.  I was once working with some friends with a tractor pulling water hyacinths out of a pond.  We attached the chain above the level of the main axel, and when the clutch was engaged the front wheels came up and a friend fell from the seat, where he lay where it appeared the tractor was going to go over backwards and crush him.  From where I stood I could safely have approached and pulled him to safety, and in retrospect there seemed to be enough time.  But I froze until the engine stalled out leaving the machine nose to sky.  He scrambled out unharmed, but my own self respect has never recovered.  This is quite normal.  Unless we have been trained to act under a certain circumstance, unless we have practiced it, we do not look at the evidence, make a decision and act no matter how strong our motivation.  We don’t think. 

Manhattan does not think.  Since there is nobody who can train him, he cannot act.  At the end of the story the plan arises to have some one of the superheroes to become a super villain against which the world can unite, thus establishing world peace.  (A silly notion if ever there was one; nations and individuals regularly stab friends in the back.)  It is obvious to the reader that the odious Ozymandias would make the best villian.  Rorschach does not realize it, but Rorshasch is not very bright anyway.  Manhattan is bright enough but paralyzed because he does not have the courage to think.  So it is Rorschach who is the remarkable one; Manhattan is very ordinary.  Just like me.  Just like any number of experts I have dealt with.  Possibly just like you.  We shall now find out. 

I am going to give you power beyond anything Manhattan dreamed of, the power to destroy the human race (which is cheap and simple), but more importantly the power to prevent the human race from destroying itself (unless it is already too late).  But will you act?  Or shall I have only cruelly  broken your mind for nothing?  Ready? 

Spin the enclosed DVD.  It will only take ten minutes.  You will discover that the fertility of a couple is determined by their kinship.  If kinship is too little, fertility declines over a few generations.  A population of say 10,000 is so large that if there is random mating, kinship will be so little that the population will die.  It appears to take about 10 generations, and we are already watching the birth of generation omega.  Our current trendy mating strategy of random mating in populations numbering in the millions and maybe billions is suicide.  Did we but know, we might be able to fix it.

Now you know.  Now you have the power to communicate.  There is more discussion at and an introduction at  If I can help in any way let me know.


M. Linton Herbert MD 

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